Now that we are about to hit the peak of summer, let’s have a good look at places we can visit in our backyard for some R&R, fun, or both:
5. Canyon de Chelly: Named from the corruption of the Navajo Tseyi, this under-the-radar canyon system in Arizona is home to the well-preserved ruins of ancient Anasazi homes, the oldest of which was built around 5,000 years ago. You can hike down the 6-mile-long White House Ruin Overlook to see an example of the way the Anasazi people constructed their cliff dwellings. In their place, the Navajo people raise families, nurture livestock, and farm the land. It’s a nice diversion for travelers driving west along Interstate 40 toward the Grand Canyon.
4. Lake Texoma: There’s so much you can do at the US’s 12th largest lake that this paragraph cannot possibly do them all justice. Along with the abundant striped bass and secretive 70-to-100-pound catfish, one can find fossils of ancient sea creatures in the limestone cliffs around the lake. A 14-mile hiking trail also avails itself to travelers looking to navigate rocky and wooded bluffs overlooking the lake. Anyone bringing powerboats to the lake will discover three islands as they sail near the center of the lake. Every nature-loving creature in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex can easily partake of this diverse array of activities in less than two hours.
3. Badlands National Park: 244,000 acres of fossil-filled rocky buttes and mixed-grass prairies await you in this South Dakota park. Black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, bison and bighorn sheep prowl the lands in the place of the rhino, horse and saber-toothed cat before them. 25% of the park is open to the public for backpacking and exploration as the Badlands Wilderness Area, the largest prairie wilderness in the US. Because the park was part of a sea which existed over 67 million years ago, fossils of ammonites, land turtles, nautiloids, fish and marine reptiles can be found here.
2. Big Bend National Park: The third National Park in this list is home to a number of black bears, mountain lions, amphibians, and snakes, among many other families of animals. The National Park Service calls Big Bend the home of the most diverse animal species collection in the country, and for good reason. Cacti grow in the sun-drenched desert surrounding an isolated mountain range, whose limestone cliffs are carved by the Rio Grande’s refreshing tributary creeks. More than 450 species of birds flock and live there, including the rare Lucifer hummingbird and colima warbler. With the park’s mostly mile-high elevation and the dozens of trails that line the slopes, there’s no lack of hiking opportunities, offering several observation points and chances to enjoy open nature.
1. South Padre Island: This extremely long barrier island in south Texas brings recreational potential that can easily fill a long weekend’s visit. Kiteboarding, windsurfing, horseback riding, and even skiing abound in this sub-tropical environment, with average temperatures rivaling those of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Seaweed also dot its coastline, unusual for beach bums that frequent the sandy beaches of California, Florida and even its cousin Galveston Island to the northeast. The island community began an informal campaign in 1997 to rid visitors of neckties, as what is implied in the very act of visiting the island is the need for the visitor to be oneself. That tradition continues to this day.
Photo credits: NPS/Rikk Flohr; City of South Padre Island C&VB